Can't Sing but Cast in a Musical
October 18, 2010 8:13 PM   Subscribe

I think I may have bitten off more than I can chew. I am doing a favor reluctantly for a group of friends. I will be performing a small part in a staged musical for a local theater company. Hint: I perform in a wheelchair, have a German accent and show some leg at the end of the play. I have never sung on stage before. I am really terrified I am going to screw this up. I have held my own in rehearsal but I know I am nowhere near the level of talent of my fellow performers. The show starts Friday and runs for three weekends. Anyone out there have any vocal exercises I can use to help build my range and confidence?
posted by extraheavymarcellus to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Luckily his range isn't all that great. Get one of your friends that sings to teach you how to hold pitch on maybe a couple of common notes and just switch between those. Will it be perfect? No. Will it be embarrassing? Not that part.
posted by devilsbrigade at 8:27 PM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've been in your situation. The best advice I can give to someone who has no experience singing (and I have almost none), especially given the amount of time that you have, is to:
a) practice opening your mouth wide all the time when you sing. Many people tend to talk without moving their mouths very much. It makes a HUGE difference to the strength of your voice.
b) breathe. Fill your body with air, not just your lungs, if that makes any sense. Let it flow out. Don't shout.
c) relax your throat. Tensing up cuts down your range. Easier said than done.

You don't have tons of time, obviously, which building technique takes. This can be overcome to a great extent by a strong, confident delivery. Commit fully and the adrenaline will see you through.
posted by Casimir at 8:37 PM on October 18, 2010

Kathy Kinney (the actress who played Mimi on The Drew Carey Show) started out exactly like you will. She had a part in college in The Boyfriend, and had to learn how to dance in three weeks. Before that, she was a stage hand (carpenter).

I know that, because I was her followspot operator. She did extremely well. Her experience was so good, she decided to continue the acting. I'll see if I can find her TV Guide article in which she mentions the worries that she had performing (much like you). If I'm lucky, Ill post an excerpt here, later.

My advice? Try to lower your 'terrified' attitude down to just 'worried.' Every actor has some stage fright, even the most experienced -- Sir Derek Jacoby, and John de Lancie have both mentioned this. Both have said that it is useful, in that they use the extra energy to put a little more 'oomph' into their performance.

Since you are in a wheelchair, I would recommend using the extra energy into focusing on your posture. As Casimir said, open your mouth and breathe. Fill your entire body with air (yes, it'll make sense when you try it). And that means sitting up straight in that chair. That is where you use the extra energy. As it is time for you to sing, use the energy to have you sit up straight. Use it to take in more cleansing, calming air. And that will help you project your voice, and will help you to calm yourself.

Hope this helps, I'll write again.
posted by IvanKalinin at 10:00 PM on October 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Dr. Scott!! :D Don't fret. Do it loud, German, and unashamed, and you will rock.
posted by The otter lady at 10:15 PM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Your friends would not have asked you to play that character if they didn't think you could do it. I recognize the character, and his singing part would be just fine even in a "speak-singing" style -- like Rex Harrison does, and he was a star of several musicals.

The advice above is great -- but for this particular character, I would concentrate on the character most of all.
posted by jb at 10:16 PM on October 18, 2010

Quick guess: Are you playing Klara in Heidi ?

I sang in a local youth chorus as a teen. "La-la-la-LA-la-la-la" up and down the scale always helped me loosen up my vocal cords. And I know it's English, but singing "The tip of the tongue, the teeth" in a monotone helped me with consonant sounds.
posted by tamagogirl at 10:41 PM on October 18, 2010

Relax. Your character isn't supposed to be able to sing -- much like him putting out a leg is ludicrous and over-the-top because he's not supposed to be attractive in any way, shape or form, his singing is meant to be flat and unskilled because he's not supposed to be able to sing.

So your confidence can come from getting used to singing loooooooooooooooooong steady notes, in the accent, and knowing that the less technique you have, the better you're performing your part. If you started singing his part well, the director would probably have a word with you about trying not to sound so good. Practice energetic, confident flat long notes, until you know that you sound graceless but you don't care because you can hold the notes steady and strong.
posted by davejay at 12:40 AM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

which is not to say don't hit the notes; please do, consistently. just don't hit them with any noticeable technique whatsoever.
posted by davejay at 12:40 AM on October 19, 2010

You've held your own in rehearsals. They asked you to do this because they think you can. I know your director is busy, but my advice is to set up a time to talk to her/him and express your concerns. They will massage your ego into place with specifics, and maybe give you last minute tips. At this point, your situation is very specific, and general advice, in my opinion, may do more harm than good. Break a. . .
posted by rainbaby at 6:33 AM on October 19, 2010

Ditto the others... Dr. Scott's role lends itself well to talking your way through the song Rex Harrison style. And let me share a lesson from improv... commit. Enough commitment, and the audience'll love ya.
posted by Zed at 6:59 AM on October 19, 2010

Go over and over your lines so that you're word perfect and then just give in to it. Be loud, be brash. Ham it up. Don't even think for a second that you're making a fool of yourself.
posted by h00py at 9:03 AM on October 19, 2010

Oh, and ah ee ehh aw oo projected loudly but without straining and as much lip and facial movement as possible. If you have a deep voice, try for deeper but without constricting your vocal chords. Aim for resonance within your chest.
posted by h00py at 9:08 AM on October 19, 2010

I'm an oboist, but have a warm-up deep breathing technique that works pretty well across the board, plus it help to calm nerves:

1) Sit or lie down somewhere and get a steady, slow walking tempo in your head.
2) Breath in slow and steady through your mouth for 2 beats. Exhale slow and steady through your mouth for 2 beats.
3) Now repeat, but with 3 beats on the inhale and exhale.
4) Again, but 4 beats.
5) Keep increasing a beat at a time, but stop when it feels like a strain, or if you're getting light-headed. You may not get very at first, but as your technique improves, you'll be able to tack on more and more.

I do this before practices and performances. Also at night in bed, if I'm having problems falling asleep.
posted by Wossname at 10:25 AM on October 19, 2010

Oh, and to add on to my exercise -- it's a little hard to explain breathing from the diaphragm in text... But what you want to do is feel like you're filling up on air from your gut on *up* to the top of your lungs, not the other way around. Your shoulders should never move up when you breath, and even short breaths should sound "deep" instead of high-pitched and "breathy".

Most people breath with their chests and not their diaphragm. In master classes, we used to make people lay down on the floor and would put a book on their belly. If the booked moved up and down with each breath, they were doing it right.
posted by Wossname at 10:30 AM on October 19, 2010

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